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Email Extremism

Pulled in many directions…

Fascinating report from WBUR that links to two separate articles about emails in the workplace. Inspired by Principal Gerry Brooks, I wrote my own take on the content of emails not too long ago, and this ties in with the productivity, or lack thereof, with emails.

From the outset, I’ll say that though I don’t feel any grand accomplishment in compiling emails by name and then hitting the delete key en masse, I do sometimes need this mindless activity. Every minute of our waking hours shouldn’t be constructed as ‘productive.’ To me that is such a Puritan-Western-worker-bee mindset. However, these studies offer important ideas around the time thievery of email, and caution us all in terms of what is productive and counter-productive. Communication and its value is subjective, however: what we send in those emails is just as important as how much time they take. Would banning emails in a school for a time period help with both teacher and student productivity, and more importantly: would it help with creativity and communication? Is it even feasible to consider this?

From the article, ‘Some Companies Are Banning Email and Getting More Done’ by David Burkus

They continued the “no-email” condition for five days, continued to observe the participants, track their computer usage, and measure their heart rates. Participants began to communicate face-to-face and over the telephone more frequently. Most participants also spent significantly more time in each computer program that they used, suggesting that they were much less distracted. Judging by heart rates, participants also experienced significantly less stress when blocked from email. The participants even noticed this effect themselves. They consistently reported feeling more relaxed and focused, as well as more productive, with their email shut off than under normal working conditions.

I’ve been using Moodle, and now Canvas, for years. Canvas is superior to Moodle, and it is my wish we continue to use this platform. One of its advantages (and there is another side to this sword) is students can upload just about any assignment during a time frame, allowing teachers to monitor progress in real time. When it’s done, it’s done. It provides a message to them and there are no papers to lose or blame to be thrown. However, the disadvantage is if I close an assignment and give it a hard deadline, inevitably there will be students who can’t or didn’t turn it in, see the grade in the grading system, panic, and then email it to me. So now I have another digital record. I try to be patient about this. If I need to ‘open’ the assignment again, I will, but then I have stragglers who turn things in and have to explain I’ll do another grade sweep when it’s convenient for me. I try my best to keep within a two-week turn around. So, I am managed by the online management systems.

Next year I am considering a ban from students in emails, and banning or limiting myself in how often I check emails. But this cultural professional shift can’t reside from me, it must come from administration. We need our emails to be accessible at all times in a school environment for safety reasons. But there are some personal rules I can create to help my own definition of success or productivity.

Perhaps the right course of action is to consider the article’s advice, ‘Stop Doing Low-Value Work’ by Priscella Claman. 

Some of my personal rules may be:

*The emails I generate are short. If it’s longer than a paragraph, then I will just email the stakeholders when they’re available to talk in person.

*Make sure subject lines are informative and direct

*Check before school, after school, during planning. Period.

The tasks where I want to be more productive include student feedback. If emails and other ‘low-value tasks’ are taking away energy then I’m doing it wrong. Student feedback is key, and that’s the first order of business.

Any thoughts on this process or information? I’d love to hear them!



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My baby, she wrote me a letter.

Thank goodness Principal Brooks has tackled this touchy subject: emails. For months now I’ve been thinking that some of the most urgently needed PD are business communication skills: I realize we educators like to think of ourselves as being superlative communicators, but alas, this is simply not the case, present company included.

Not a Superman changing room. Not a Dr. Who tardis. Just a phone.

Remember, I’m old. I’ve been in other careers before teaching, and in such was a digital pioneer with faxing, e-mails, Windows, Macs, etc. We still used Voice Mail then, and instead of cell phones, and now the beep-beep-boop Smartphones, we utilized pagers! And we ran to payphones to check in! AND–true story–had phone cards so we could make long distance calls from said payphones. I mean, the word ‘payphones’ is coming up as incorrect in Grammarly!! NO GRAMMARLY I AM NOT SPELLING PAYPHONES WRONG.

Yes, it was stressful.

Speaking of all caps: that was one of the first things we learned when using e-mail. The handling, or mishandling, of typography, stood in proxy of our voices. All caps means yelling. Everyone’s worked with someone who uses all caps, and they can change. I’ve seen it.

But aside from the obvious faux pas of all caps, there are much more subtle ways e-mails are awkward. Here are some do’s, don’ts, and some ideas in between:

Pro tips:

  1. Just like Principal Brooks says, if it’s truly for the good of the group, send all staff/reply all. (Note to self: don’t overdo this.)
  2. If you need to send an all-staff email, make sure to preface which group you’re intending the information for, and that others may like it, too.
    • It’s okay to send a personal event to the whole staff: you don’t know who might want to see your dressage event (I think that’s pretty cool!) or if there’s a new baby or grandbaby in the house (yes, please).
    • It’s okay to hit the delete key and not get panties in a wad over an all-staff, too.
  3. Keep them short. You’re not being rude, you’re being efficient.
  4. Don’t keep them so short you don’t answer the questions, though. I’ve gotten a few emails that only half-answer my question.
  5. Exclamation marks aren’t necessary: I’ve noticed a trend that unless you use an exclamation mark you’re not showing the appropriate level of enthusiasm. This is actually a thing. (It’s a hard habit to break, though.)

Don’t feed the trolls.

If an email is used for any other purpose than (clear) communication, then maybe think before hitting send. And this is difficult to admit, but there are staff trolls, just like they’re trolls hiding under Internet bridges and gutters. They’re difficult to detect, and I believe very rare, but in this day and age, it seems that tone/voice trumps good manners, meaning one’s charisma or saying “it’s just the way I am” is an excuse for being rude. If email communication is used to make another colleague seem incompetent that’s not just bad manners, but possibly a human resource issue of creating a hostile work environment.

Please edit, or don’t send at all, if:

  1. The email names or outs another colleague that may be incorrect, untruthful, or damaging.
  2. The email includes asks for advice or help, make sure to thank everyone who weighs in: do not single out one response that is “wrong.” That’s trolling.
  3. The sage advice: don’t hit send when angry. Draft it. Let it sit.
  4. Finally: would this be better in person? If a colleague has trolled to the point of creating tears, document it, and take it up the chain.

Keep your sense of humor, though

Some misfired emails are funny, and unless you’re Secretary of State and a Russian hacker finds purchase in your email mountain, you probably don’t have much to worry about. Delete at will. Set up rules so that your admins’ emails go straight to the top. And always click on the baby picture links.